Royals, Lions become unlikely championship opponents
GUELPH – The Ross Royals and St. James Lions became unexpected District 10 high school football championship combatants when they scored semifinal victories Friday at Alumni Stadium.
The third-place Royals scored the winning touchdown with 3.8 seconds to go as they edged the second place Centennial Spartans 21-18 in the opening game of the semifinal doubleheader.
The fourth-place and defending champion St. James Lions, playing without regular quarterback Jakob Tomas, slipped by the first-place Guelph CVI Green Gaels 17-14 in the nightcap.
The games were a far cry from the tripleheader the previous Saturday that saw three one-sided games wrap up the regular season.
This year’s league was a close one at the top and the general consensus was that any of the playoff participants could claim the championship. Still, the top two (GCVI and Centennial) had to be the favourites.
That, though, didn’t mean much Friday as the favourites were left in tears while the underdogs celebrated their victories.
The championship match is set for Friday at 6 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.
Ross 21 Centennial 18
The Royals never led until Nico Jean-Gaston crashed over the line on a quarterback keeper with the winning touchdown.
“We didn’t have much time so I told my (centre) that as soon as I touch your butt, give me the ball,” Jean-Gaston said. “He gave me the ball and then Malik (Faulkner) helped me out and a big O-line push got me in and finished the game. That’s how it went.”
“It was just our quarterback sneak,” Mathewson said. “Twelve seconds left and we’re down on the two. The first one we tried and couldn’t get it in and then we just quickly ran up to the line to get another (play) in. It’s not ideal without any timeouts at that point, but we got the job done.”
The win puts Ross in their first championship-game appearance since 2015 when they lost 16-14 to Centennial and they’ll be looking for their first D10 title win since 2013 when they won for the fourth time in five year.
“It’s been a while,” Mathewson said. “For a lot of these guys, they haven’t been to one. Coming from last place last year is huge for us. It’s a big step.”
“A big, big win – so exciting,” Jean-Gaston said. “From an 0-5 season last year to now going to the D10 championship, it’s huge and I’m just so grateful for this team and everything that’s happened.”
Everything that happened, of course, included the winning drive that could have been derailed by a single miscue.
“That’s kind of been our season, too,” Mathewson said. “Our backs have been against the wall and we’re coming from last place last year. Throughout our season and throughout our last couple of years we’ve had lots of things go wrong at the wrong time. It was about time our luck fell in for us.”
“We had a huge game plan going for this game,” Jean-Gaston said. “We knew that with all the motion and all the reverses going we could get some big plays and they actually worked to get us down there.”
Centennial was up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, 14-7 at halftime and 17-7 at the end of the third quarter. They kicked a single in the fourth quarter to put the Royals in the position of having to get a touchdown to win it. A late field goal by Ross wouldn’t be enough to send the game to overtime.
“We were thinking that we just had to go and get a field goal, but when they got that it was huge because we had to march the ball the whole field,” Mathewson said. “We still wanted to win because we didn’t want to get into a shootout with that kicker (Lane).”
“We always knew that we could do it,” Jean-Gaston said. “Give us a chance and we’re going to take that chance and make something out of it.”
The winning touchdown was Jean-Gaston’s second of the game while Copeland Frasson had dove into the endzone for Ross’s other touchdown. Max Nixon converted all three.
Quarterback Daniel Brown and receiver Drake Davis had the touchdowns for Centennial and Ben Lane kicked a field goal, two converts and a single.
St. James 17 Guelph CVI 14
“What a football game,” St. James coach Colin Malone said. “I have to be honest. We always believed we could do this, we could win a big game. We just had a hard time doing it this year, but we believed and today it finally came together and we won. I’m so proud of these guys. We did believe we could do this, we just had to bring it together and we did it today.”
With Ethan Berry at QB replacing Tomas who suffered a shoulder injury in the regular season-ending game last Saturday against, the Lions didn’t wait as long to take the lead.
“What a tribute to him and to Ethan who stepped in and did what he did,” Malone said. “He’s unflappable, he’s steady and he led the team. As much as we missed Jakob, Ethan stepped up and did what he needed to do today. I’m really proud of him.”
As well as replacing Tomas in last week’s 42-7 loss to Centennial, the Lions had to rebuild their confidence at the practices leading into the semifinal match.
“It took a couple of days,” Malone said. “It took Monday and Tuesday to kind of reset and get back to where we needed to be. But we’ve always said that you put the week behind and you’ve got one football game. In the playoffs, it’s one football game. Today was one football game and we won it and now we find ourselves back where we were last year.”
Friday, the Lions went ahead by 10 points in the third quarter, then held the Gaels to a touchdown in the fourth to claim the win in the penalty-filled game.
GCVI led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter before the Lions tied it 7-7 by halftime. St. James added a touchdown and a field goal in the third quarter.
Dylan Magee and Owen Ellis scored the TDs for the Lions while Cameron Ross kicked a field goal and two converts.
Ben Boddy and Rhys Collins collected the touchdowns for GCVI and Gabe Magyar-Santen added the two converts.
- Guelph Sports Journal